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Ethics by standards

It should, however, be noted that although ethical values are usually also enforced by law, unethical practice does not necessarily imply that the practice is illegal. Visualisations are one of many means of conveying information and providing insight. They are a facet of publication. As a result, the ethics that apply to visualisations will have similarities to those that apply to publishing material, such as authoring and journalism, especially with regard to information sources and the information conveyed, which are difficult to clearly define.

Having clearly defined ethics for visualisations is further compounded by the fact that it is not always easy to determine the 'authenticity' of a visualisation with respect to conveying the intended goal, as demonstrated in the case of the Space Shuttle disaster 1986, which was attributed to launching in cold weather, where both sides claim an oversight.

One method of adhering to some aspects of ethics is through the utilisation of a set of standards. Ensuring that the standards are met increases the likelihood of a good visualisation. There are many aspects that affect a visualisation, and one approach to endeavouring to achieve good and ethical visualisations is to unutilised bad practices in visualisations. There has been a lot of work on bad practices in visualisations. Bresciani et al. (2008) compiled a list of classifications of disadvantages to this end (see Table 10.1). Knowledge of bad practices results in good practices, which results in adherence to some ethical practices.

Table 10.1: Classification of Visualisation Disadvantages (Bresciani et al., 2008)
Ambiguity Over-complexity
Confusion Redundancy
Cost to make explicit Technology/template driven
Cryptic encoding Time-consuming to produce
Defocused Unclear
Hiding/obscuring Unevenness
Implicit meaning Change blindness
Inconsistency Channel thinking
Low accuracy Depending on perceptual skills
Misleading Difficult to understand
Not respected Gestalt Principles High requirement on training and resources
Over-determinism Misuse
Over-/under-reliability appearance Overload
  Wrong salience
Disturbing Visual stress
Boring Personal likes and dislikes
Ugly Prior knowledge and experience
Wrong use of colour  
Affordance conflict Cultural and cross-cultural differences
Hierarchy and exercise of power Personal likes and dislikes
Inhibit conversation Framing effect
Rhythm of freezing and unfreezing Different perspectives
Turn-taking alteration Hiding differences of opinion
Unequal participation Time-consuming to agree
Altered behaviour